Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 7:12 PM on Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Weather permitting, track will be completed by fall

By McKibben Jackinsky
Staff Writer

The last track and field event held on the Homer High School track was in 2009. The reason: the track's deteriorating condition. Thanks to a $1.1 million appropriation in the state's capital budget, that will change next fall with the completion of a new track, according to Kevin Lyon, capital projects director for the Kenai Peninsula Borough.

"The design is complete and final work on the bid package is continuing this week," Lyon told the Homer News. "The appropriation of the state funds for construction is scheduled for the June 19 (Kenai Peninsula Borough) assembly meeting, so funds will be available for award of the construction project on July 2."

Weather, however, could be a deciding factor, said Lyon, who already has researched average temperatures and rainfall in the Homer area during July and August.

"We need a window of good weather to get it in. That's a tough one," said Lyon. "If the weather goes totally out the window, well, I'm trying to not let that happen."

The bid package for the project's design directed the winning bidder to include design and cost estimates for replacement of the existing running track, which was built in 1985, as well as drainage needed for the support of the track and the field located inside of the track. The project's design was awarded to USKH, a design firm with offices in Alaska, Washington and Idaho. The firm also included three additive alternates that can be done if possible within the $1.1 million budget:

• Additive alternate 1: Relocate the long and triple jump;

• Additive alternate 2: Change the track surface from red to blue;

• Additive alternate 3: Construct an exterior curb around the track;

• Additive alternate 4: Relocate and construct a shot put venue.

"The design includes provisions for a turf field in the future," said Lyon, referring to the field located inside of the track that is used for football. "Essentially, whenever you do this, you put the track in first and the put the field in after the fact. Estimates to put in a football field are about $2 million."

Borough Mayor Mike Navarre said Ordinance 2012-19-01, appropriating funds from the state to build the track, is ready for introduction at the next assembly meeting, with a public hearing on June 19. He gave several reasons for the successful funding of the track.

"One was that funds were made available by the Legislature and the governor supported athletic facility projects all over the state, but the group in Homer that's been working on this did a great job raising the awareness level and building support on the borough assembly and in the Legislature," said Navarre. "All of that helped."

As far as a new turf field, Navarre said, "We had hoped to get that at the same time, but we'll just have to do it as funds become available. We'll pursue that in the future. By making sure the drainage is improved, when we get field improvements then that work has already been addressed."

Dr. Allan Gee, principal of Homer High School, said a design team has been formed to oversee the new track project. In addition to Gee, team members include Lyon; Dave Spence, director of planning and operations for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District; Bill Steyer, HHS track coach; and Pam Newton, HHS athletic director.

"The team is working with the design firm USKH, throughout the entire project," said Gee.

The Homer High School track has been one of several for which the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District has sought state support over the past few years. Dr. Steve Atwater, district superintendent, attributed the success of funding the Homer project to "the coordinated effort by the district and local lobbying efforts, and Mayor (Mike) Navarre working hard to make this happen. ... This was a big community wide effort. A high level of awareness helped move it forward."

Bill Smith, who represents Homer on the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly, also praised the local effort, as did school board vice president Liz Downing of Homer.

"Rep. Paul Seaton (R-Homer) really went to bat for us. He deserves our thanks for that," said Downing. "Between the community and working through the school district administration and the support from Mayor Navarre, I think we made it happen all together."

The last time the Homer High School track was used for events involving other schools was in 2009. In October, after receiving public testimony that cracks and holes, vegetation growing through the track's surface and the track's inability to hold lane and other markings posed increasing safety risks, the borough's Risk Assessment Committee recommended immediate closure of the track.

While that action didn't bring an end to the school's track and field program, it did force practices to be moved to the practice field and parking area in front of the school. The Relay For Life of Homer, an event that raises thousands of dollars locally for the American Cancer Society and draws hundreds of participants, has been held on the Homer High School track since 2009. Scheduled this year for June 8-9, it also has been relocated to the practice field and parking area in front the school.

"The whole community is going to have a great facility that will be safer for everyone," Marilyn Parrett, event chair for this year's Relay, said of the new track. Of improved handicap access, Parrett added, "It's a huge thing for everyone to be able to take part and use the track."

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky@homernews.com.